MANKATO, Minn. — The first bad-news call of Mike Zimmer’s career as a head coach came late at night but early in his first season with the Minnesota Vikings: Defensive tackle Linval Joseph had been shot in the leg at a downtown bar after the team’s first exhibition game.
To the relief of Zimmer and the rest of the organization, that dreaded, unexpected call could have been a lot worse. Joseph was not part of any altercation, just at the wrong place at the wrong time, and suffered only a minor injury to the area around his calf.
“Oh, my God, and thank God he’s OK,” Zimmer said, recalling his reaction to the news. “He’s a terrific young man. He’s a good, good kid, and we have a lot of good kids on this football team.”
Joseph rejoined the team as training camp resumed Sunday following a scheduled day off, taking part in meetings but not practice.
“Life is precious,” linebacker Jasper Brinkley said, later adding: “Glad to have him here, man.”
Joseph was with a group of unidentified teammates at the night club after the Vikings beat the Oakland Raiders on Friday, when a man started shooting.
“I’m sure it shook him up like it shook all of us up,” Zimmer said. “He’s a very high-character, high-quality young man.”
Joseph was one of nine people injured. He’ll probably be held out of action on the field for the next week or two, but general manager Rick Spielman said Joseph would recover fully before the start of the regular season. An examination by the team’s medical staff of the wound revealed no cause for concern.
“I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and concerns over the past 24 hours. I am extremely thankful that this was a minor injury for me,” Joseph said in a statement distributed by the Vikings. “As the team has communicated, this was an unfortunate situation where I, along with several others, was an innocent bystander to a senseless act. My thoughts are with all of the victims at this time. I am looking forward to getting back onto the field with my teammates in the near future.”
Joseph was walking without crutches, Zimmer said. Signed in March to a five-year contract worth as much as $31.5 million, with $12.5 million guaranteed, Joseph is being counted on as a key run-stopping cog in Zimmer’s defense.
Joseph spent his first four NFL seasons with the New York Giants, starting 46 of 48 games and averaging 55 tackles and three sacks over the last three years. In his absence, backups Fred Evans, Shamar Stephen and Chase Baker will have their repetitions increased. Stephen, a seventh-round draft pick from Connecticut, received praise from Zimmer for his progress in camp and play in the game Friday.
So while practice went on Sunday, the Vikings were still taking a collective deep breath after the weekend scare. Asked whether there was a need to reiterate a message to the players about being safe, Spielman said Zimmer has consistently done that since taking the job in January.
“We have to be aware of our surroundings. We have to make sure we understand where we’re going. We’ve got to make sure that we understand it,” Zimmer said. “There’s a chance that people try to make a name for themselves by doing something to somebody, a high-celebrity guy, and we just have to make sure we take care of each other and we have to know where we’re at and where we want to go.”